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Tim O'Neill: Schools without music?

Imagine a world without music. Better yet, just try to imagine even a single day in your own life without music.

Music is an integral part of what it is to be human and it should be an integral part of the education of every young person. Plato said that "musical training is a more potent instrument than any other for education."

Yet, faced with dire funding news from Sacramento, many local school districts are contemplating the complete elimination of music education in their schools. To do so would be a huge mistake. Once gone, music programs take years to rebuild, if they are ever rebuilt at all.

In my role as a board member for the Merced Union High School District, I know that our district is also facing severe funding cuts, but I am proud that our administration and our board recognizes the value of music education and we are keeping our cuts as far away from music classrooms, and all classrooms, as possible.

We understand that colleges and universities require applicants to have completed at least one yearlong high school course in the visual or performing arts -- and they have that requirement for a reason.

The research on the educational benefits of music education is clear:

Music students are more cooperative with teachers and peers, have more self-confidence, and express themselves well.

Participation in music motivates students to come to school and stay in school.

Arts education promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and encourages learning through risk taking.

Music creates actual physical changes in the brain that improve memory and result in statistically higher intelligence quotients.

Music students do better across the board in their academic classes, and most especially in math.

I urge you to contact your local elementary school board members and ask them if cuts to music education are under consideration. If music is safe in your schools, be sure to thank your board representative for supporting this important component of a complete education. If cuts are under consideration, make it clear how you feel about the importance of music in our schools.

Please be kind. Board members and school administrators are under tremendous pressure and face incredibly difficult choices these days, but they do want to hear from their constituents as to what the priorities should be.

I was moved to write because I have just returned from an inspiring musical performance by the Merced County Honor Band. The Honor Band featured more than 80 of the best middle school musicians in the county, representing 11 different schools. The Buhach Colony High School concert band closed the concert.

As I was enjoying the musicianship of these young people I realized that if we lose music in our middle schools, these 80 students, and the hundreds more back in their middle school bands, might be the last group of musicians that will matriculate to our local high school bands.

The loss of middle school music would almost certainly lead to the demise of high school music programs. If this is allowed to happen our schools, our families and our community will lose far more than we can currently imagine.

Support music education in our schools. Your local school board members want to know just how important this is to you and to our children.

Tim O'Neill is a member of the Merced Union High School District board of trustees.

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